The year I was conceived, my Papa got a scholarship to take his master’s degree in International Business in Canada. He left for the 1967 fall term, leaving a 7-year old son, a 4-year old daughter and a wife on her third trimester. The decision to take the scholarship was made with the family’s long-term benefit in mind, albeit one that meant my Mama would have to take one for the team. In an age before text messaging, Skype and email, this meant sending snail mail, recording sniffly messages on cassette tapes and talking fast in expensive long distance calls.
When Mama went into labor with me, she locked my brother and my sister in our bungalow with food; and asked the neighbors to look into them a couple of times; while our relatives were en route to help. I expect Mama was torn beyond words about leaving her small children, as this was against her most basic instincts. My pre-schooler Kuya Jun made Ate Suzzette cry for sport after all — a preview of the mini-explosives and DIY booby traps that came later.
Mama had to walk down a small hill and catch a jeepney along McArthur Highway in rural Bulacan. She hopped on a public utility vehicle, only to be stalled by the procession for the Feast of Christ the King. I can only imagine the colorful conversation in that jeepney that day. Luckily, the newly-opened Our Lady of Fatima Hospital was only a short ride away.
I had to have tubes and needles stuck in me for the first few hours of my life, as I was born barely 6 pounds. Strange, since my Ate was born at 8 pounds and with a tooth! Maternal stress perhaps? Mama stayed in a ward instead of a private room — because she wanted to hold onto her cash (no ATMs or quick bank transfers back then); and she left as soon as she could, as she had two small children waiting back home.
My uncle sent my Dad a telegram to announce my arrival. He decided to name me “Mona Liza”, instead of “Fatima Regina”. Good call — I can’t imagine having any other “brand”.
It took months before Papa saw me for the first time. Unlike my siblings, I had no photographer to document my newborn cuteness, my intimate baptism, my first months. In fact, Papa missed many of my firsts — something he, like many young parents, would anguish over.
Today, 48 years after that crazy, stressful day, I remember my parents’ sacrifice and strength. They are a big part of the wife, the mother, the leader, the human being I have become. I could only pray that I inherited some of their parental fortitude and overall “kickass-ery”.